Have you ever been a part of church conflict before? Whether playing an active role or someone watching from the pews, church conflict can be a scary thing. You never thought or imagined that Bob the long-standing committee member who was well into his 80s could turn so red in the face or knew those kinds of words. Thankfully, I’ve never been a part of a church meeting where there was yelling or obscenities, but I’ve heard some horror stories. Maybe you have too. I would also say that the Devil wants nothing more than Christians to turn on each other. If we do, he wins without a shot fired.
Church conflict is one of the biggest obstacles to so many who may otherwise turn to Jesus. They see us bludgeoning one another, looking just like the world, and want nothing to do with us. Further, many see the animosity we direct towards one another as an indication that we are hateful and don’t understand even the first thing about love. These are strong statements, but they are parallel to words we find in scripture. Church conflict grieves Jesus’ heart and destroys our witness.
Jesus’ passionate prayer in Gethsemane addressed the topic of church unity today. After praying for his disciples- that our Heavenly Father would protect His disciples from the Evil One and sanctify them, Jesus turned his attention to you and me. Let this sink in: Jesus was facing crucifixion in the coming hours, when his thoughts turned to us and he prayed these words, with blood, sweat, and tears streaming down His face.
17:20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Do you see how important unity is among the Christian Church? Jesus, thinking about you and me 2,000 years ago, chose to focus his prayer on our unity. Not our protection or our prosperity but our witness through our unity as His people. The American Church has a lot of growing to do in this area. Though there are some bright spots.
Very few Christians are contentious by nature- that is they enjoy causing conflict and division. Rather, we don’t handle disagreements well and the resulting tension creates conflict that often escalates into infighting, destruction of churches, and missed opportunities to make disciples. All of us are guilty of doing this at some point, and vulnerable to causing division in the present and future.
Thankfully, we may gain insight into conflict management among believers by looking at a serious conflict 2,000 years ago that threatened to throw the Early Church into contentious chaos.
I invite you to join with us this weekend as we walk through Acts 15 together, looking at the Jerusalem Council. Our socially distanced service is Saturday afternoon at 3:30, and our Sunday morning service is at 10:15, where you can join us online if you can’t make it in person. We also have Sunday School classes at 9 for all ages.
Have a great weekend and I look forward to pursuing Christ, Community, and the Great Commission Together with you soon!
-Pastor Nathan Rice